I was waking up at 4:30 a.m., cursing my alarm clock. Awake before dawn, cold, sick/hungover, I’d trudge to the bus stop with frost crunching beneath my boots to get to work. It was an hour long bus ride if the traffic was good. I used that time on the bus to read and write poetry. I earned my MFA, start to finish, on that bus. Crossing the lines, riding over the river, circling the familiar pathways.
But before the bus was the dead kitten. My anchor.
See, while I was thinking about my graduating thesis, my “masterwork” of poems I was walking to the bus stop. A rooster crowed. There was fog, there was sleet, there was ice and the wet cold soaked into my marrow. My bag was too heavy with books and not heavy enough with food. I didn’t have enough alcohol/I had too much.
There was this image in my head of this ghost-woman under the foggy streetlight but that wasn’t reality. She was orange and I thought she was my speaker, the thread that would connect everything in my collection, but she wasn’t. I don’t know where she’s gone now. Maybe she wasn’t real to begin with.
I know she wasn’t real because the poems didn’t feel real. They weren’t working. I was stuck.
And then I was walking to the bus stop and there, in the grey concrete gutter at the edge of the dark, early morning road, was the dead kitten. Nothing ate it and its body was frozen. I walked by that little broken body for a MONTH and watched it get flatter and flatter, the fur and skin seemed to be dissolving into the road, the bones were sinking, slowly, into the concrete.
It was like the road was eating the body since none of the carrion feeders would touch it. It was too cold for the insects. Most insects.
And that made me think about borders and barriers and bodies dying on the road. Animal bodies, human bodies. There are borders between countries, borders between places within countries, borders between roads and rivers, roads and houses, roads and bodies.
I began to explore those places.
And then in the spring a flash flood killed my car. My most loyal, bestest friend in the world. We’d been on so many adventures together and I cried when I had to turn him (yes, him) in to the dealership. More debt, more stress. More mistakes made with the man who is now my ex-husband. I wrote the Echo of Something Hitting because I needed to tell myself specific things about the way I was living that I could not see. Rather, my sub-conscious/my reptilian brain needed to tell me. Go look back at your old poems and see if there’s something you might have realized sooner than you thought.
I began to explore those places too. The flood and transformation. Transformation from catastrophe. (As far as catastrophes go it was a small one but the water sloshing over my boots and then the firemen pushing my car out of the road, all of them wearing grey shirts and water up to their thighs, frolicking in the water like otters. Sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to put them into the book. If any of you are reading this now, all these years later, thank you.)
There’s lots of bird imagery, lots of water imagery, lots of grey. The kitten was grey.
(I tell people my favorite color is green but I think, secretly, it is grey. Grey and the weird pink/periwinkle/grey of some ballet slippers. Is it okay to have more than one favorite color? I don’t mean to imply in any way that green is inferior. I really like green.)
I’m running out of things to say about the book. It began as a collection of poems but as I wrote about the kitten and the road and the river the borders of the poems dissolved and it became what I like to think of as a “lyric essay.”
I got my degree in Cross-Genre and Hybrid Poetry. Hybrid is where prose and lines blend and mutate like sick proteins but they’re not sick. Things unfold and knot up. Things flow freely but they also flicker and disappear. Think deep sea fish and you’re good. The Cross-Genre is not merging “romance” and “fantasy.” Where I went to school, genres were prose and poetics. Genres were how you actually wrote, not what you wrote about.
So a lyric essay, to me, is formatted like an epic poem but has zero meter, too many long pauses, random chunks of prose that float like globules of crude oil in the ocean–they’re soft, not like plastic–
Here’s an article from the Los Angeles Review of Books about lyric essays…and how they can be…banal…(awesome selling point).
The Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville says, “Writing the lyric essay offers the author a frolic in the pool of memoir, biography, poetry and personal essay mixed with a sprinkling of experimental.“
What is interesting?
What is over-the-top batshit crazy?
What is self-important pontification?
Maybe it’s all those things. But I feel that poetry is WAY more than just verse and form. Poetry is more than lines and stanzas, more than meter, rhyme, and syllable counts. I guess you could say that lyric essay is the ultimate free verse but free verse is already free verse so…I’m rambling now. I should end this post.
I wanted to say all that because I want to get back into poetry. I want to start working on another poetry collection, one that’s been hanging out in my head since 2007, like dust piling up in the corners.
The Echo of Something Hitting is a hybrid, cross-genre, lyric essay that explores the transformative journey from disaster into survival; an imagined life after death. Becoming something new within the language of roads, rivers, and storms, the text decomposes and reforms to escape the boundaries of words.
Fans of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Labyrinth and Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters will enjoy this handful of words.